Iowa Football

Vegan diet has Iowa OT Alaric Jackson feeling 'more energized' this season

Lineman says he hasn't lost weight as he continues NFL development

Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson (77) looks to make a block during the first half of an NCAA college football game
Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson (77) looks to make a block during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan State, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

It’s five games into this experiment, and Alaric Jackson feels just fine.

Not fair to call it an experiment at this point, either. The Iowa offensive tackle seems to be all in with not eating meat.

Just ask him about his vegan diet, what he’s eating while his teammates chow down on steaks, burgers, chicken and everything else at their daily training table at the Hawkeye football complex.

“I’m pretty big on pasta, for the most part,” Jackson said. “That’s the biggest thing I love, pasta. Veggies, tofu, things of that nature. But late night, I’ll make my own meals. I chose last night potatoes, mushrooms, green peppers, jalapenos. So it kind of goes how it goes, honestly. It’s not like there is a (specific) direction.”

Jackson wanted to be healthier, lose some of his fat as he went into this truncated season, a big one for him, considering his potential to be a high NFL draft pick. His body is noticeably different, though he insists he hasn’t necessarily lost weight, just bad weight.

He’s still listed at 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds.

“I talked about (defensive end) Chauncey (Golston) earlier in the session here and same story, only a different story, because Chauncey came in here as a skinny kid, and A.J. was a heavy kid,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “I’ve been around linemen for a long time now. It’s hard for big guys to lose weight, and he’s done an unbelievable job of that. I think he’s shown extreme discipline, and we’ve watched him grow every step of the way, too.”

Jackson considered entering the NFL Draft this year but ultimately decided to return. He was a third-team all-Big Ten pick in 2019, and that was despite missing three games with a leg injury.

It appears to be a great call. Not only is he giving pro teams more good tape to watch, he will graduate in December with a business-type degree.

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“It’s going pretty well so far,” the Detroit native said. “I can’t take all the credit myself. I give it to the O-line for the most part. They’ve been behind me when I miss (blocks). Our play has gone pretty good for us so far.

“(It’s) just overall being together as a unit. Day in, day out, off the field, we’ve gotten really tight. This is the most close-knit line since I’ve been here, and I think it’s paid off for us overall. You guys are seeing it, I’m seeing it ... There are a few miscues every now and then, but we’ll get that fixed up.”

Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said at his media availability last week that he thought both Jackson and center Tyler Linderbaum are playing “a high level.” They’ve been catalysts for an offense that has been able to run the football very effectively, especially the last three games.

“Our leadership up front, it’s showing up,” Brian Ferentz said. “There’s a great shot last week where those two guys end up leading the way to end up right out in front of the ball, finishing blocks into the sideline. And when you talk about bullying or being the bullies of the Big Ten or being the most physical team or any of this stuff that we’ve talked about in the past around here, right now those two guys are leading the charge.”

“Last year wasn’t his best year when he came back,” Kirk Ferentz said. “But I have to tell you, a year ago spring, when we had spring and then a year ago August, he had unbelievable spring and August camp and was really playing well. Unfortunately, he got hurt right of the bat and I don’t think he ... it took him a long time to catch his rhythm coming back. Injuries are tough to come off of.

“So, what he’s done this year, it’s probably what he would have been doing last year or at least close to it. He’s just playing like a fifth-year senior. He’s playing smart, he’s playing with a really great focus and concentration. He’s got good ability, but he’s using everything he’s got right now and doing it better than he has since he got here.”

And that’s despite his new vegan ways. Or quite possibly because of them.

“I would say it has,” Jackson said, when asked if he is feeling the way he expected with his diet. “I’m more energized, more stamina for the most part. I’m more into it, overall my mental health is pretty positive. I would say I’ve lost a few things, such as strength. That just comes with it ... But I’d say say for the most part, yes, it has been what I expected.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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